I’d always hoped that one of the perks of writing this occasional column, would be the opportunity to try out new and exciting cutting edge eateries. You know the sort, where wine is served in marshmallow form and even the cutlery is edible. ‘Oh the irony,’ I found myself thinking as I found myself once more sitting with the Ultimate Rugby Fan (URF) at a table in Buona Sera on the Northcote road.
Trendy, unsettling, avant garde, these are just some of the phrases you won’t associate with Buona Sera, which is such a stalwart on the Northcote road, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’d been left behind by the Romans. Phrases that do happily spring to mind however are friendly, reasonable and delicious.
The particular evening that I found myself again placed at one of Buona Sera’s many accommodating tables, I think I’d as always been trying to convince the URF to try out somewhere new. I can’t remember what it was called, probably something like ‘!’ or ‘Emoji’, anyway that was floating her boat as much as a collision with an iceberg filled with quick drying cement and so we agreed a compromise, she’d decided where we went and I’d turn up there.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I love the Northcote road. It has a great selection of shops, bars and eateries and seems to be developing more community feel by the minute. Buona Sera has been there for about as long as I can remember and is pretty much my go to place for what I think of as a traditional Italian meal, you know reminiscent of the simple but great food we might have enjoyed whilst growing up.
The menu is pretty simple with a selection of starters, pizza, pasta and traditional Italian main courses and generally well-chosen specials that seem as of a piece with the rest of the menu. A word of caution here, the pizzas aren’t for amateurs, being roughly the size of hubcaps and slathered in enough topping generally to make a course of their own, these are what elasticated waistbands were invented for.
Buona Sera is a child of the 80’s, having originated in exactly the same year as the URF herself, 1989. This is pretty evident when you walk with the interior being divided into a smaller, little used bar area and the main restaurant. For those of a similar age to myself, the bar does look like somewhere that Vince would be chatting up Penny prior to sitting down to a slap up feed. Decorated in very Italian colour scheme of light green and white, this does make you feel a little bit like you’re sitting in a lasagne verdi.
There is a good drinks list to accompany the menu. The URF started with an Aperol Spritz, which she deemed great. I started with a Negroni, which was dark, bitter and as appropriate for a drink that seemed to match my personality, very agreeable to me.
It being rather late when we arrived, we decided to skip the garlic bread we usually enjoy, this was a pity. Buona Sera does pretty much my favourite garlic bread in the neighbourhood. Thin, hot, crispy with a strong flavour of fresh roasting garlic, this is a treat where you don’t count the carbs just simply inhale and enjoy.
Though we skipped the garlic bread, we did share a calamari and fried courgette (zucchini) starter. Both were very fresh, with the calamari soft and sweet and the courgette with a little bit of crunch. So not the most imaginative of starters, but one done well which was very satisfying.
For the main course, the URF went off piste and ordered a carbonara which though not on the menu is something she’d enjoyed here before. What she hadn’t enjoyed however, was my attempt to make the same dish the previous week the result of which she’d described as spaghetti Lorraine. Well the eggs might have been slightly scrambled, but I enjoyed it (or at least pretended to.)
For me, I went for a special of the veal chop. This was pretty much a junior T bone, cooked just right and served with duchess potatoes and vegetables. All elements were very good, and of a portion size that nearly defeated me. The URF though was defeated by her carbonara, and you could see the disappointment in her eyes when she couldn’t consume any more.
Credit where credit’s due however, unwilling to abandon her hard won treat, the URF called for, and received a doggy bag. Not only that though, she got expert advice on how to reheat the dish, whilst retaining as much of its texture and flavour as possible. This I’m glad to report she has followed through with and was very happy with the result.
Neither of us being in the mood for drinking much, the URF stuck with her cocktail through the meal, whilst I augmented mine with a glass of Cortese, which was fine, dry and light and complemented the meat perfectly. There’s a fairly wide selection of Italian wines both by the bottle and the glass, not so much it’ll overwhelm you, but with enough variety that you should find something to match your palette.
No pudding for us that night, but having had them before I can attest to their edibility, and will definitely be going for one on my next visit. The bill when it came was about £60 for 2, so pretty much in the mid-range for mid-range dining, but good value in terms of the amount of enjoyment we received. A special shout out must go to our waitress Julia, who was friendly, efficient, and help make the night go smoothly.
What can I say, I know I’ve gushed here, but for a place to have survived for so long and remain so busy it must be doing something right. Its Italian soul food, not showy, not pretentious, but just the stuff that we fell in love with the first time. It’s been there for over 25 years, and I sincerely hope for 25 years more.
22/26, Northcote Road
SW11 1NX, London